At the CONTACT photography festival in Toronto, the most compelling pieces are variations on portraiture, searching, and incantatory.
The artist Ayana V. Jackson uses her own body to repudiate the typical colonialist story by inserting herself in that story as a Black woman whose very presence prompts the viewer to consider those bodies made less visible by 19th-century middle-class portraiture. This is not at all a unique strategy (Elizabeth Colomba, Kehinde Wiley, John Akomfrah, and Yinka Shonibare come to mind immediately) but her work has incisive resonance being placed in the Campbell House Museum, which was built for a chief justice in 1851. In the images displayed in the downstairs sitting rooms, Jackson is outfitted in period dress and lays herself out in postures of repose, her impassive face staring at the viewer steadily accepting the viewer’s gaze as her rightful due. In the upstairs room, her figure is made ephemeral, printed on starkly white fabric, her body floats in space, but is still an indomitable presence, steadily observing or going about her own business.